Image: Ruth 1:1 (Masoretic Text)

Above is the text of Ruth 1:1, as we look at the introduction to this fantastic book of the Hebrew Bible. In Jewish circles, people tend to call it Megillat Rut (מְגִלַּת רוּת), the “scroll of Ruth,” rather than the “book” of Ruth. This is because Ruth is written on a separate scroll that is publicly read during the holiday of Shavuot (חַג שָׁבוּעוֹת), just as Lamentations (אֵיכָה) is read during the night of Tisha Be’Av (ט׳ בְּאָב) to commemorate the two-time destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

For those who are interested in a linguistic treatment of the text, you will certainly be challenged by Robert D. Holmstedt’s Ruth: A Handbook on the Hebrew Text (Waco, TX: Baylor UP, 2010). I recently purchased a copy, and it has renewed my passion for this book of the Bible.

The workbook to Karl Kutz and Rebecca Josberger’s Learning Biblical Hebrew: Reading for Comprehension (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019) contains the entire text of the book with vocabulary helps for beginning readers.

Let’s look at what’s contained in this first verse and break it down. I’d like to start this as a series.

Continue reading “Reading Ruth 1:1”

While it may appear that the Hebrew Café is silent, there is actually quite a few things going on around here.

Jonathan has been meeting with his students twice a week as they worked through beginning, intermediate, and advanced biblical Hebrew. The advanced course met most recently on Tuesdays and Thursdays as they worked through the first few sections of Jacob Weingreen’s Classical Hebrew Composition (Oxford, England: Oxford UP, 1957) and tackled some concepts related to the historical development of various forms in biblical Hebrew. Each of these classes was recorded and uploaded to YouTube for the students who participated in the class.

Jason recently finished up his course in intermediate biblical Hebrew with a focus on retelling stories in Hebrew, using the texts of the Elijah story as presented in Cook and Holmstedt’s Intermediate Biblical Hebrew (Grand Rapics, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2020). Students would read the stories and come up with ways to retell them in their own way, and they would do so for their fellow learners. All of this was recorded and uploaded to YouTube for the students who participated in the class.

Jonathan is about to open a new beginners class for biblical Hebrew. Jason is hoping to open a class for Hebrew reading. Stay tuned for updates here about new course openings.

 

Emerging from the Canaanite milieu of Semitic languages, Hebrew has been around for a very long time. It isn’t clear how old the language is, but most place its emergence in the early second millennium before the Common Era (just before 1,000 bce). The language was actually called at one point in the Bible “the language of Canaan” (שְׂפַת כְּנַ֫עַן; cf. Isaiah 19:18), and we see from inscriptions from the early period of the language that several other Canaanite languages (such as Moabite, Ammonite, and Edomite) were very close to Hebrew in orthography (the alphabet that they used), in lexical stock (the words themselves), and in accidence (grammar, morphology, and syntax). Anyone who is trained to read the Siloam Inscription in Hebrew will be equally equipped to read the Mesha Stele in Moabite, even though these are technically different dialects of Canaanite language. These languages were certainly mutually intelligible by native speakers of each from that period.

If we draw a line between Moabite and Hebrew as distinct languages, though they were so very similar, what do we make of modern and biblical Hebrew? Are they essentially the same language? Should they be classified as distinct languages? Can learning modern Hebrew be at all advantageous to a student of the biblical language? Or, should those who aspire to master the language of the Bible avoid contaminating their thinking by adopting modern Hebrew?

These are the concepts that I would like to explore a bit in this blog post.

 

Continue reading “Are Modern and Biblical Hebrew Distinct Languages?”

Paleo Hebrew decorate image

I take the first step into this blog post with a bit of trepidation. I intend to broach a subject that Hebrew teachers generally avoid, given its controversial nature. In fact, one of Krashen’s hypotheses about the Natural Approach to second-language acquisition is that language teachers must do what they can to lower the “affective filter” (pp. 37–39), which would block students from connecting emotionally with the language and would discourage them from taking independent strides toward putting themselves into positions for receiving comprehensible input and discovering optimal input materials for themselves. It is my hope that I won’t be putting up any blocks for those who sincerely wish to find their way into acquiring and learning Hebrew in whatever form.

I do, however, feel compelled to offer a voice against some of the wild things that are becoming so popular on the internet and are contrary to everything scientific and evidentiary. There are two odd theories in particular: Edenics, the theory that all world languages have descended from Hebrew in some way; and, some popular idea that words in Hebrew derive their “real meaning” from meanings given to their composite letters. I will not confront Edenics at this time, but those interested may read these two answers on the Linguistics subsection of Stack Exchange (here and here) to receive great responses on Edenics. I want to offer some direction to those who are convinced by the second theory.

Continue reading “Hebrew Pictographic Meanings?”

Jonathan has been teaching a course in advanced biblical Hebrew recently, in which he is using two textbooks: (1) Gesenius’s Hebrew Grammar; and, (2) Jacob Weingreen’s Classical Hebrew Composition.

In this video, I go through the whole of Text III from Weingreen’s textbook and explain why I render it the way that I do in biblical Hebrew. This complements what I wrote up about one of the verses from Text II on The Learners Forum (see here specifically).

Let me know what you think and if you enjoy this.

As you might be aware, Jonathan has been writing a series about the word order of the biblical Hebrew verbal sentence. The significance of that series and what he is arguing might be lost, however. Therefore, I wanted to write a short entry to let you know why I have become a recent convert to Cook and Holmstedt’s proposal for the re-examination of the standard or “unmarked” word order in biblical Hebrew.

Anyone who learned Hebrew through the standard channels will generally tell you that the normal word order in Hebrew is verb-subject-object (VSO). That is, the verb appears first, then the subject, and then whatever other information (the object, adverbs, etc.). Take, for example, the following quote from the popular introductory grammar The Basics of Biblical Hebrew by Gary Pratico and Miles Van Pelt (133 [§12.14]):

In Hebrew, however, normal word order for a verbal sentence is verb-subject-object as the following example illustrates.

בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ
God created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1).

In this example, the verb is in first position (בָּרָא), the subject in second position (אֱלֹהִים) and the two objects follow the subject (הַשָּׁמַיִם and הָאָרֶץ).

This is wholly incorrect for a few reasons, but you cannot blame these authors for making such a statement when even Gesenius, the most famous of biblical Hebrew grammarians, has the following to say (Kautzsch, 456 [§142f]):

According to what has been remarked above, under a, the natural order of words within the verbal sentence is: Verb—Subject, or Verb—Subject—Object. But as in the noun clause (§141l) so also in the verbal-clause, a variation of the usual order of words frequently occurs when any member of the sentence is to be specifically emphasized by priority of position.

So, why has this topic occupied so much of Jonathan’s thoughts here on the blog of The Hebrew Café? Why does any of this matter for students of biblical Hebrew? And, how can we know for sure that the information on word order presented in these grammars is so incorrect?

Continue reading “A Recent Convert”

Stone Chumash Cover

The second chapter of the book of Exodus overflows with textual oddities. By chance, Jonathan asked me to read it with him last night, and so we sat down on Zoom and read through it, stopping every once in a while to comment on some textual quirk that leapt off the page. I thought it would be worthwhile to write some of these down and get some feedback, if anyone else is interested. I’ll break it up by verses and comment where I think the text is less than clear. These really are just impressions that I get from the text. I haven’t checked any commentaries at this point beyond that of the Stone Chumash. They may have some great explanations that I haven’t come across yet.

Continue reading “The Strangeness of Exodus 2”

I first began my study of the Hebrew language as a second-year student at OCC with Dr. Larry Pechawer. I studied under him for two years, during which we did a full year of grammar using C. L. Seow’s A Grammar for Biblical Hebrew  and then a full year of translation, starting with the Joseph story with Professor Yerushalmi’s The Story of Joseph (Genesis 37; 39-47) and then moving on to direct translation of the book of Hosea and several other portions of the Hebrew Bible. We also translated the Siloam Inscription (Hezekiah’s inscription on the water tunnel in Jerusalem) and the Mesha Stele in the ancient Hebrew script (עברית קדומה).

Image of the Siloam Inscription by King Hezekiah
Siloam Inscription

I would say that I had a great introduction to the Hebrew language as it occurs in the Bible and in extra-biblical inscriptions within my first two years of Hebrew study. However, if you had asked me to communicate in Hebrew at that point, I would not have gotten too far. I could read the Bible and understand what I was reading, so long as the text had nikkud. There was also a copy of the Babylonian Talmud in the college library that I tried to read. The text was unpointed, however, and I had a difficult time of it. In many ways, then, the courses that I took at OCC prepared me for what their purpose was: to give me the tools to read the Bible in its original language. I am more than grateful to Dr. Pechawer for the hours that he invested in my education and in providing me with a better way of viewing the texts of the Bible.

Continue reading “My Hebrew Journey”

I know that we tend to focus on the biblical language here. This is because we’re busy leading courses in reading the Bible. I wanted to make sure to get a bit of modern Hebrew into the August archives of the blog.

A bit about books, bookstores, libraries, and places to read.

סֵ֫פֶר     book (pl: סְפָרִים)
סוֹפֵר     writer, author (pl: סוֹפְרִים)
סִפְרִיָּה (ספרייה)     bookcase, library (pl: סִפְרִיּוֹת)
חֲנוּת סְפָרִים     bookstore (pl: חֲנוּיוֹת סְפָרִים)
בֵּית קָפֶה     coffee house, café (pl: בָּֽתֵּי קָפֶה)
מְעַנְיֵן (מעניין)     interesting (pl: מְעַנְיְנִים (מעניינים))
שִׂיחָה     conversations (pl: שִׂיחוֹת)

Continue reading “And now for some modern Hebrew”